Michael is delighted by the government's recent announcement of a new Covid Winter Grant Scheme. This consists of £170 million additional, ring-fenced funding to councils in England to help vulnerable children and families through this difficult winter. Moreover, we have announced £220 million of funding to expand and roll out our Holiday Activities and Food Programme.
As part of the Covid Winter Grant Scheme Bournemouth, Christchurch & Poole council will receive £1,068,327 and Dorset Council will receive £922,153 and this will prevent children across Dorset from being hungry this winter. The £170 million scheme contains at least 80% earmarked to support hardest-hit families with the cost of food and bills, and it builds on the £63 million already provided to councils this year to assist those struggling to buy food and essentials.
A further £220 million will be invested in expanding and rolling out the Holiday and Food Programme across the country until next Christmas, after successful pilot schemes of the programme, meaning that all children eligible for Free School Meals will have the option to join a holiday-time programme that provides healthy food and fun activities during the summer, Christmas and Easter holidays next year. We will also boost Healthy Start payments from £3.10 to £4.25 from April 2021 and have pledged additional funding of £16m for food distribution charities.
Collectively, this package of support will help us tackle the important issue of holiday hunger amongst vulnerable children, and delivers on our Manifesto Commitment to supporting disadvantaged children and families. It represents a significant expansion of support measures already provided by this Government, and gives responsibility for the distribution of support to councils, who have the local expertise and knowledge to guarantee the effective provision of support. This Winter Support Package also goes above and beyond an extension to the free school meals voucher scheme during school holidays, which others have been calling for – the proposal to extend FSM vouchers over Christmas would have cost £40 million for the two-week period and only FSM children would have been eligible, whereas our new package of support will cost £170 million, last 12 weeks and support thousands more disadvantaged children in a way which is more targeted, localised and effective.
This package of support to help vulnerable children and families builds on the measures we have already introduced, including:
- Boosting the Universal Credit standard allowance and Working Tax Credit by £1,000 per year for 12 months, as part of a £9.3 billion increase to the welfare safety net. This built on the 1.7 per cent rise in the value of working age benefits that came into effect in April, benefitting around 2.5 million households.
- Increasing local housing allowance rates for housing benefit and universal credit claimants to the 30th percentile of local rents, worth on average £600 per year, at a total cost of almost £1 billion.
- Providing the National Living Wage (NLW) with its largest ever cash boost in April – increasing by 6.2 per cent to £8.72. This meant an annual pay rise of £930 for a full-time worker on the NLW, and of £3,600 since its introduction in 2016. Together our changes to the NLW, income tax and NI mean the lowest-paid working full time could be £5,200 better off than 2010, in real terms.